Thursday, June 02, 2016


I don't know if Descartes started the era of magical thinking about consciousness (Cogito,ergo sum.) or not, but he surely deserves at least some of the blame. Scott Aaronson reports here on a debate of sorts he had with Roger Penrose on whether computers could develop consciousness. There is some jibber-jabber about Gödel, quantum amplification in microtubules (Penrose) and quantum non-cloning (Scott) but I did not get much out of it.

I suppose that this is because I don't share the magical significance of consciousness theory. For one thing, I think that a lot of animals are conscious - certainly apes, monkeys, dogs and even fish and maybe even bees. Not that any of them know how to discuss the subject in Latin. I even think that certain robots have a kind of primitive consciousness. I admit that none of them can intelligently discuss Descartes or Nietzsche, but then how many humans can, either?

Ultimately, consciousness is just awareness of self. If you look at the development of a human infant, you can see that awareness develop as a child gradually learns (at three or four months) that her two hands can touch and affect each other. I suspect that even Searle's Chinese room could hardly do a good job of translation without some knowledge of itself.